How to Break the Cycle of Guilt, Shame, and Overeating | TMOHP Episode 131

I don’t believe that you can heal your relationship with food or permanently change your eating in positive ways if you don’t address the emotional baggage of shame. So let’s talk about how to break the cycle of guilt, shame, and overeating.

We live in a world that shames women for their eating, their hungers, their bodies, and their weight. If you’re a woman who struggles with overeating, emotional eating, or your weight, you’re likely also carrying around the weighty baggage of shame and guilt. The shame and guilt and anger at yourself are things you have been taught to feel. By a culture that puts impossible standards on women of what’s supposedly acceptable and attaches all sorts of wrong judgements to the size of our bodies. By past experiences and relationships and judgements and criticisms made by others - which incidentally say more about them then about you - but it doesn’t feel that way. By a society and a health industry that is unfairly size-biased and by medical professionals who have little or no training in nutrition or behavior change and are using outdated unhelpful standards to evaluate us. And let’s not forget the shaming of the diet industry whose implicit message is always that you failed if their plan didn’t work for you.

You’d have to be superhuman not to have internalized some or all of these beliefs and influences. This episode is about how to break the cycle.

In this episode:

  • The shame/guilt/overeating cycle
  • Getting off the hamster wheel
  • Self-compassion and shame
  • Letting help in

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • The Freedom from Overeating Roadmap for Smart, Busy Women is your guide to ending overeating and emotional eating habits. Designed for multitaskers and busy women, you’ll take your power back from overeating with this free guide which includes resources for addressing the reasons you overeat and a user guide for Dr. Melissa’s most popular podcast episodes. Download your roadmap here:
  • Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz. The free Hidden Hungers Quiz was designed to help you target the reason you're overeating so you can create changes that last. Take a few minutes to find out what you're really craving (that isn't food) and get your Hidden Hunger profile and customized action guide. Join over 34,000 women who have used the free quiz to get to the root of their overeating and emotional eating.
  • Your Missing Peace is my signature 6-month program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Join the Freedom from Overeating and Emotional Eating Community on Facebook
  • Private Coaching for Emotional Eating and Overeating: I have openings in my schedule to work with about twelve women a year and openings are filled as space becomes available. Private coaching meetings are scheduled via Zoom or phone and we can connect from anywhere in the world. Private coaching is customized to you and your goals and we'll work together for a minimum of six months. Learn more and apply here.
  • Visit for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

Episode Transcript

Today's podcast episode is going to be a heavy topic, but I promise I am going to talk with you about how to move your way out of it. Today, I want to talk about how to break the cycle of guilt, shame, and overeating. This is important. I don't believe that you can heal your relationship with food or that you can permanently change your eating in positive ways if you don't address emotional baggage.

And one of the biggest loads that needs to be unpacked is the load of self-blame, guilt, and the shame that so many women feel around their eating and drinking around their overeating and around their weight. It's a lot to unpack, and I won't pretend that I can possibly address all of this in one podcast episode.

However, it's an important topic to unpack. And I'm also getting a lot of questions about this. Because there is no question that shame and guilt and frustration with yourself will hold you back, will keep you stuck, and will keep you feeling really, really bad about it. And also, there is no question that shame and guilt and frustration with yourself are responsible for a significant percentage of your overeating and emotional eating.

It is exhausting. These feelings are so defeating. The shame and the guilt, they steal your energy. Yesterday, a new client said, it's like I make this wrong move. I make one wrong move. And then that voice in my head says, it's all ruined. You ruined it. Now you might as well give up. And then I'm mad at myself.

I'm mad at myself for regaining the weight. I'm mad at myself for my body. I'm mad about how it looks. I'm mad at myself for letting it happen. Janet, who is in my Facebook group, commented that she wants to know how to drop the guilt. How do I drop the guilt and the shame over food, over the size of my body, over quote, letting myself get this big? How do I let go of the shame and guilt over what feels like wasting my life trying to lose weight?

This is heavy, important stuff. The shame and the guilt and the anger at yourself. These are things that you've been taught to feel. You have been taught to feel shame and guilt and anger by a culture, a culture that puts impossible standards on women of what's supposedly acceptable. And a culture that attaches all sorts of wrong judgments to the size of our bodies.

You have been taught to feel shame and guilt and anger from past experiences and through relationships and judgments and criticisms made by others. And incidentally, those judgments and criticisms and things that other people have said? Incidentally say more about them than about you. But of course it doesn't feel that way.

You have been taught to feel shame and guilt and anger at yourself from a society and from a health care industry that is unfairly size biased. And by medical professionals who have little or no training in nutrition or in behavior change and who are using outdated, unhelpful, unuseful standards to evaluate us.

You would have to be superhuman not to have internalized some or all of these beliefs and influences. And then perhaps most powerful, because it usually operates invisibly, is a belief that the diet industry has sown your entire life. And that is this, it is, if you don't like your eating habits or your weight, then it's up to you to change them. Use the plan, follow the plan. And if the plan doesn't work, it's your fault. If you don't get results, you need to try harder.

That is the message that has been put up there for you your entire life. And there are huge holes in this, huge holes. Let's walk through them because this is important. This is important to listen to even if you feel like you've heard it all before.

Brains that are bathed in shame and self-blame have a hard time listening. It is hard to listen when you are bathing in shame and self-blame. Your brain has already decided that you are the problem. It's not listening. In the midst of shame and being disappointed, feeling disappointed in yourself, your brain is pretty shut down. And focused inward on that shame and on all the thoughts of unacceptability that the shame is generating for you.

So, we're going to go through this. The diet industry taught you that you simply need to follow the plan. Whatever the current plan is. And if it doesn't work, it's your fault, and if you don't get results, you need to try harder. And by the way, we are not even talking about today that the diet industry defined for you what your goal should be. And what the standards of acceptableness were supposed to be. And what it is that you're supposed to be shooting for. That's another episode for another day.

What we're sticking with today is that the diet industry taught you that you simply need to follow the plan, whatever the current plan is. And if it doesn't work, it's your fault. And if you don't get results, you need to try harder. So here's what happens. You follow the plan or you try and it doesn't work.

So it's your fault. You were lazy or you didn't care enough or you didn't have enough willpower. You should have done more. That's what you tell yourself. And by the way, this is not a message from an anonymous diet industry alone. That's not the only place you hear it because other people buy this too.

And other people may have told you incredibly hurtful things along this line of thinking. Just try harder, just do more. You didn't work hard enough. And sometimes they may have told you incredibly hurtful things, even from a place of wanting it to be helpful. Because they've drunk the Kool Aid too. They believe this stuff.

This is the path to making changes. This is what you do. You follow the plan. And if the plan doesn't work, it's your fault. Just try harder. And your own brain has also been marinating in these messages your whole life. A part of your brain believes this too. So you may also be whispering or yelling at yourself, just try harder.

And maybe you do. Maybe you try harder. Or maybe, like my new client, you feel defeated. And maybe this leads to a binge or a comfort eating extravaganza. Or a week of ordering whatever you want and eating huge amounts of it because you just can't think about this anymore. Or you just can't feel how bad you feel about all of this, and you don't know how to break the cycle. You feel powerless.

This is the shame, guilt, overeating, vicious cycle. It is a trap. And by the way, it is especially a trap for high achieving women who are accustomed to creating results in their lives. This is an especially effective trap for women who are used to creating results by working harder. Just work harder.

What's wrong with me? Why can't I do it in this one area? That's the thought that goes on replay over and over and over. What's wrong with me? Shame. So how do you break the cycle? I want to cover four important parts of this because you absolutely can break the cycle. You want to break the cycle. You need to break the cycle. If you want to create lasting positive change with your eating and it can be done. All right?

So the first thing is to remember that the way off a hamster wheel is never to run faster. It sounds really obvious, but that is what we have been trained to do. When you are caught in a cycle of trying harder and harder or feeling completely unmotivated to try because it feels hopeless because you're tired of trying harder and harder and not getting anywhere.

When you are on this hamster wheel, and by the way, along the way, feeling more and more shame or self-blame because you can't figure out why you're not getting anywhere, it is time to get off the ride. It is time to get off the hamster wheel. The way off the hamster wheel is never to run faster. So, let's start by telling yourself a different story.

Instead of playing, I didn't work hard enough and I need to work harder on repeat. How about this one? There's a reason I eat. Every single time. And I've been trying to curb or to control the things I put in my mouth without the use of the help or the tools that would help me pay attention to the reason. There is a reason.

You all. You've probably heard me say this before, but there is always a reason that we eat. Sometimes it's a need for food or fuel. Sometimes it is because we're bored. Sometimes it is stress relief. Sometimes it is a way to numb out or avoid something. Sometimes it's a reward or a treat or a comfort at the end of the day. Sometimes it's a way to soothe ourselves, but there is always a reason. And if we ignore the reason and just keep trying harder and harder and harder, the thing that is motivating us to want to eat is always going to be there propelling us toward food. Propelling the cravings and making them harder and harder to resist.

So start telling yourself a different story. It's not that you didn't work hard enough. It's that there's a reason this is happening. You might not fully understand it yet. You might not have the tools or the resources to figure out what to do about it yet. But the problem isn't your insufficiency

The next piece that is going to take you out of the shame and overeating spiral is to start practicing approaching yourself with the same kindness as and the same attempt at understanding that you would apply to someone you care about.

That is what self-compassion is. Self-compassion is learning how to switch gears from yelling at yourself or berating yourself or judging yourself into being curious and gentle. Compassionate. Soothing. Acknowledging that this is hard. Maybe that you feel vulnerable. Maybe that you're anxious that you won't be able to do this.

And then using compassion, that kindness, that openness to understanding to circle back to that new belief that this is not about you not trying, it's about missing pieces to the puzzle. Compassion means opening a door to the possibility that it's been hard because there are reasons you're overeating or reasons that you are stuck in this cycle and you haven't known what to do about that.

Or you haven't even known that that was a possibility. It might sound silly, but we really do have to practice talking to ourselves with kindness and coming at ourselves from a kind, nonjudgmental, curious place.

The third thing that is a part of this process is acknowledging that leaving the shame and overeating hamster wheel behind is a process.

 You've been doing this for a long time. Your brain has been thinking in these patterns for a long time. The habits have been digging their trenches through your system for a very long time. This is going to be a process. It takes time. It takes patience. And sometimes it is going to take the support of someone who is outside of your shame.

Actually, a lot of the time it is going to take the support of someone who is able to separate themselves from all this shame and all the hard stuff that you're carrying around. Somebody who would never talk to you the way that you're talking to yourself in your head. Right?

Somebody who cares about you. Someone who also wouldn't shame you for feeling shame or for feeling stuck. Having somebody who isn't tangled up in all that shame talk in your head can be so valuable in helping you stay grounded in a different perspective. There's a reason that most of the work that I do now is inside a group program. A group program that I run. It's because shame is a major contributor to emotional eating and overeating. And when shame is exposed to light when shame is talked about in a supportive and safe place, when you have reminders and support around you that your shame isn't the truth, then the shame begins to dissolve.

Shame is going to tell you that you need to go it alone. Shame will tell you that no one else will understand. Shame will tell you that no one feels like you do or no one is possibly as messed up about this as you are. Shame is lying. Shame wants you to stay hidden and alone with your shame. That is how shame stays alive.

This is such an important place to get help in and to let help in good help, safe help. You do not need to do this work alone. And honestly, it is hundreds of times harder to do this work alone. Shame fades away when you have witnesses to help you see the lie of it, to help remind you that there's a reason this is happening.

No, you're not lazy. No, if you had tried harder, you would have just been running faster on the hamster wheel. Shame fades away when you have witnesses to help you see that shame hurts. That you're entitled to compassion. That the way you are talking to yourself in your head, the dialogue that has been reinforced over the years of shame and guilt and self-blame is painful. And you don't deserve it.

Do not believe the lie of shame that you need to do this on your own. This is actually a place where a professional help a program like Your Missing Peace or working with a therapist or a counselor can be your most powerful move.

When I was in college, I was a master with my textbooks and my highlighter pen. I was a big highlighter. And if I could highlight one particular part of this podcast episode, this would be it. Do not let shame keep you isolated.

The last thing I want you to know about shame and guilt and the overeating cycle is this. Shame is also a fan of all or nothing and black and white thinking. Shame will step in when you make one little misstep, you make one little move that wasn't exactly perfect or didn't take you in the direction you wanted to go. And shame will step in and tell you that you have made no progress at all. Shame will tell you it is ruined and you're not getting anywhere and shame knew you could never do it anyway.

Know this going in. Because it's not the truth and one thing you can do to break the cycle is to create a process for tracking your wins. Keep a list a literal list of what's changing. Write down when you stepped outside your comfort zone. Write down when you activated compassion. Write down when you had the courage to ask for help. Write down how you used support. Where you set a boundary. How you paid attention to your hidden hungers. Where you took a pause and paid attention to whether you were hungry or not. Even if you went on and ate afterwards. Track the wins, track the progress, track how you are thinking differently, track the choices that you made.

Shame doesn't like being talked back to. Shame doesn't like having attention paid to it. It would just like to run the show. So the more you bring your new beliefs, the more you grow your belief that you don't deserve the shame and that you deserve better self-talk and better self-belief, the more you do these things, the more shame will take a back seat. And the more you'll get your power back.

There is so much more that could be said about this topic, but these are truly the places to start.

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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